May 6, 2007 at 6:01 PM ET
Are you “Connected but Hassled?” How about “Light but Satisfied” An “Inexperienced Experimenter?” Or maybe you just can’t get enough, and you’re an “Omnivore.”
Technology analysts often break consumers into simple categories like this: Early adopters (geeks); followers (most of us); and Luddites (still without cell phones). But to some researchers, those descriptions always seemed too general. Plenty of Red Tape readers, for example, have loads of technology in their lives but find it often does more harm than good. So a little more than a year ago, the Pew Internet & American Life Project set out to come up with more descriptive categories to represent the full spectrum of tech consumers.
“To do this, we asked people what you have, what you do with it, and what you think about it,” said John Horrigan, who authored the study.
The survey results indicate there’s no straight-line continuum between heavy users and Luddites. Instead, there are plenty of nuances in the way people use the Internet, computers, digital cameras, and cell phones to enhance their productivity and stay connected with friends. In the end, Pew settled on 10 character types – a typology – to describe the ways consumers use technology.
The big surprise: Not all geeks love technology, not all neophytes hate it,
and believe it or not, 15 percent of the population still lives without a computer and a cell phone.
The survey unearthed some subtle distinctions: Not all geeks hang out online all the time. Some 10 percent of the population are “Mobile Centrics,” who use their cell phones constantly, but have very little use for computers or the Internet. The category includes a higher-than-average number of African-Americans.
Many heavy tech users aren’t all that happy about being wired. Some are “Lackluster Veterans,” who have been using the Internet since its inception. For them, the thrill is gone. In fact, many seem to wish they could accidentally flush their Blackberries down the toilet. They represent about 8 percent of the population. Another 10 percent are “Connected But Hassled.” These users aren’t quite as experienced as the “Lackluster Veterans,” but they share the desire to disconnect from the grid once in a while. They really don’t see the benefit of being connected to co-workers constantly – only 9 percent in this group think technology makes them more productive. Many say they are facing “information overload.”
20 percent are unhappy with technology
“This group … has a lot of technology, they use it frequently, but they are dissatisfied with what technology offers them. That means 20 percent of the adult population is not altogether pleased with technology. That was surprising to me,” Horrigan said.
On the other end of the spectrum are “Omnivores,” “Connectors,” and “Productivity Enhancers.” “Omnivores” buy all the latest gadgets and use them to the fullest. They post comments on blogs (like this one), they make and share digital movies and they log on constantly. Nine out of 10 have broadband access at home, 70 percent are men, and 42 percent are students. About 8 percent of the population could be called “Omnivores,” the study suggests. Another 7 percent are “Connectors.” Also avid tech users, they are much more likely to use networking Web sites and cell phones to organize social events rather than spend time blogging. This group tends to be thirtysomething women.
“For this group, too much (technology) is terrific,” Horrigan said.
Down the scale just a bit are the “Productivity Enhancers,” who use tech mostly at work, but have very positive feelings about it.
Most users surveyed by Pew had a generally positive attitude toward 21st Century gadgetry – but a sizable minority had more mixed feelings. About 30 percent of those surveyed indicated they were either “not thrilled,” “burdened,” or downright “annoyed” with technology. And another 15 percent have spurned it all together, remaining “off the network” by rejecting both cell phones and computers.
Other surprising facts from the study:
• Despite what you might see at the bus stop or on the train, only 20 percent of the population has iPods or MP3 players and only 11 percent own a Blackberry or other palm-sized computer.
• 27 percent of Americans still don’t have a cell phone.
• 45 percent don’t own a digital camera.
• Nearly 1 in 5 Internet users have posted a comment on a blog or newsgroup.
• Only 7 percent have ever listened to a podcast, and only 1 percent told surveyors they’d listened to a podcast “yesterday.”
• Across the spectrum, many tech users suspect their gadgets have more functionality than they are using – for example, 82 percent of elite “connectors” think their tech toys can do more.
Toward the bottom of the spectrum are “Light but Satisfied” users (15 percent) and “Indifferents” (11 percent). Both groups own the most basic cell phones and limit their Internet use. They have rather ho-hum notions about their gadgets. On the other hand, another 8 percent on the lower end of the tech spectrum are “Inexperienced Experimenters.” These users, often older women, don’t know a lot about their gadgets, but they are having fun tinkering with them.
“These are people who in spite of coming to technology later are up for trying new things,” Horrigan said.
The Pew typology does ultimately divide users into three familiar tiers – “elite” tech users, medium users, and those with few gadgets. But the study shows that within each group are both tech lovers and tech haters.
Perhaps most surprising of all to those of us who live “On the Network” all the time: We’re still a minority. While 31 percent of the population is avid, or “elite” tech users, fully 49 percent rarely use high-tech gadgets.
“I sense the Internet in general is making more inroads into everybody's lives,” Horrigan said. “But about half the population is less engaged with technology, and they think that’s fine.”